Structure and form - Hampshire Gardens
PUBLISHED: 15:32 11 January 2011 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013
Leigh Clapp meets garden designer, Lisa Potter, and learns more about her designs that give year-round structure and interest
A career change to enable more flexibility for her family commitments, led Lisa Potter from working in advertising to garden design. In 1999 when my children were a few years old I decided to take the opportunity to retrain and do something I could be passionate about. Ive always been artistic, which I have inherited from my parents, who both paint. While at school I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I knew the reality about getting a job at the end of that was quite slim. My parents are also keen gardeners, I grew up eating home grown produce and the garden was always tended to and was kept very neat and tidy. Garden designing seemed a natural outcome that would fit well around my family, recalls Lisa.
After completing her HND in 2003 at Sparsholt Agricultural College, with around 90 per cent of her grades being Distinctions, Lisas tutor referred her for work, allowing a smooth transition into being a professional garden designer. I am the only person from my years of study to make a business from it. I guess my tutor could see that I was the sort of person that would go out and meet people, listen to them and have the confidence to grow a self-employed business. I was able to stay on at Sparsholt and take my qualification up to BSc but I was already working and I asked some of my clients if it would make a difference as to whether they employed me, and they said no it was about my personality, approachability and vision for their gardens, adds Lisa.
Visiting Lisa at home and a couple of the gardens she has designed gave me an insight into her style and working methods. One immediate sign is the warmth in which her clients greet her that show this is a designer who understands and appreciates the individuality of each owner and their needs. Visually it is clear that also of importance is to develop gardens that are based on form and shape, both from hard landscaping and also architectural plants, softened by infill to give value through the seasons.
I do like balance and I do like all-year-round structure and interest. I will always work with my clients brief regarding style and would never enforce my preferences on a client, however if a client came to me wanting a cut flower garden which would die back to expose just earth through the winter, I would walk away, as it is not my style, Lisa explains.
To help fine tune a clients thoughts Lisa has a book of ideas with cuttings of gardens collected over 10 years, and together with her portfolio this gives points of reference for the design. I ask them to tell me what they like, so that when I go home and sit at my drawing board I come up with an idea suited to my clients needs, she adds.
Although Lisa appreciates work by other designers, she explains that she is not influenced by them. I am my own person and I tend to do my own thing. The balance at Alhambra Palace particularly appeals to the formal styles that I like but I would have to put a contemporary twist on the design, as I like modern architecture. I see beauty in shape and fluidity, which spills over into my collection of art glass and photography as a hobby, I am constantly looking for a shape that will create a focal point in a picture. I am not a designer who meets a client and says you should do this and that. I have built my reputation up because I take the time to understand what styles my client likes, this saves me a lot of time when I come to present the plans, she comments.
The planting palette
In the gardens we visited elements of geometry, with straight lines and curves, are softened by plantings of contrasting textures and colours. Evergreens form the basis of the palette with emphasis on the visual interest of foliages, including variegated or metallic tones. Flowing, repeated plantings give strength to the overall designs. In one garden the planting is kept quite simple with a lot of evergreen grasses to link with the countryside beyond, in another there is substantial layered planting in curving beds.
Lisa has some signature plants that she likes to use, including stately phormiums, evergreen herbaceous and trees that give interest in different seasons. My favourite focal point evergreen shrub is Nandina domestica, as when it matures the stems are strong, hence its common name Heavenly Bamboo, and when the new stems appear they are a purple, reddish colour. The foliage turns red in the winter and the summer flower clusters turn into clusters of berries. This is a very worthy plant.
My favourite evergreen trees are Eriobotrya japonica for its large architectural leaves and Magnolia grandiflora with its large dark green leaves with a velvety brown underside. It may take a few years of establishment to get a good show of flowers, but the treat will be saucer-like cream coloured scented flowers in August, enthuses Lisa.
For deciduous trees, Lisa finds the large, lime green leaves of Catalpa hard to beat, with their added benefit of fantastic flowers and a strong skeletal shape. She also uses a range of Acers, appreciating both their fine foliage and their coloured barks. I particularly like red varieties or Sangu Kaku which has a coral coloured bark so it has interest after the leaves have dropped, she adds.
Working with clients
Lisa, through her business Room with a View, offers clients a full design service including consultation, scale drawn plans, two visits to agree any changes and a survey carried out for less than 400, depending on the size of the garden. Plants can also be purchased through her and the garden fully completed. My philosophy is to create a beautiful but practical outside space. I like to keep my prices reasonable for the service that I provide as I think that it should be affordable for everyone thinking of spending money on their garden. You will find me very approachable and down to earth. I am a hands dirty designer and enjoy carrying out the planting myself. My passion for what I do shines through, concludes Lisa.